Public Policy, Crime & Punishment

With the protection of the lives and property of the community being the public policy driving force behind policing. [1] To support public policy objectives, it is imperative that those who commit crimes are held accountable and punished for their crimes. To effectuate punishment, upon conviction, the defendant receives a formal pronouncement of punishment. This pronouncement is known as sentencing. [2]

The rationale behind sentencing reflects certain realities that are required to keep society functioning under the rule of law. In essence, without sentencing, the rule of law is merely a rule of suggestion, in that without a means to punish those who violate the law, the law is not compulsory. Because of this reality, it is important that upon conviction, the defendant is sentenced.

In a broad sense, sentencing is just one part of the criminal justice system’s efforts to support the above stated public policy objectives. Yet, to describe the specific goals of sentencing and how they affect public policy, it is essential to discuss the specific goals of sentencing which are: (1) rehabilitation, (2) deterrence, (3) incapacitation and (4) retribution. [3]

Rehabilitation, according to the “rehabilitative ideal,” theorizes trained experts could assess, diagnose and treat the root causes of criminal behavior. [4] The belief was that by “removing or remediating the presumed causes of criminal behavior by providing economic, psychological, or socialization assistance to offenders,” the offenders could be rehabilitated and transformed and returned to society as productive members of the community [5]

Another goal of sentencing is deterrence. [6] The criminal justice system seeks to deter people from committing crimes by making society aware that penalties will attach to behavior that violates the law and that to avoid exposure to those penalties, a person should refrain from unlawful activity. A good example of a common method of deterrence is the process one must endure when violating the speed limit law. When being stopped for a speeding violation, not only is the person’s liberty to travel freely momentarily inhibited, but the person is also subject to pay a costly fine, as well as having negatively impacting points placed on his driving license. These points can result in an increased insurance premium being charged to the driver.

Then, in considering another goal of sentencing, we examine incapacitation. [7] The object of incapacitating the offender is to deter the commission of further criminal acts by separating the offender from society. [8] This is usually accomplished by incarceration for periods up to life in prison, or by the sentencing the offender to the death penalty.  

The last goal of sentencing in this discussion is the goal of retribution. [9] Retribution is punishing the offender for the criminal act. While we can observe the harshness of the punishment and understand how retribution can relate it to the idea of deterrence. The aim of retribution is to manifest the degree of society’s dislike of the offender’s criminal acts by punishing the offender. Retribution is aimed at making the offender suffer for violating the law. [10] Retribution can take the form of both fines and or imprisonment, as well as execution.

[1] Del Carmen Rolando V., Criminal procedure: law and practice 414 (8th ed. 2010).

[2] Id. at 415.

[3] Id.

[4] Phelps, Michelle S. “Rehabilitation in the Punitive Era: The Gap between Rhetoric and Reality in U.S. Prison Programs.” Law & society review. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Mar. 2011. Web. 24 June 2017.

[5] Del Carmen, supra, at 415.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Worrall, John L. Criminal procedure: from first contact to appeal. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2010. Print.OK

[10] Del Carmen, supra, at 415.